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2 women at Santa Barbara hospital sexually assaulted, suit claims

September 24, 2013|By Richard Winton | This post has been updated. See note below for details.

A nursing assistant at a Santa Barbara rehabilitation hospital sexually assaulted two partially paralyzed patients and, despite a report to the hospital by one of the victims, stayed on the job, a lawsuit filed Tuesday alleges.

Jose Carrillo, 55, of Summerland, was arrested in October 2012 on suspicion of sexually assaulting the two female patients who were recovering from brain injuries at Cottage Rehabilitation Hospital.

In each case, the nursing assistant allegedly sexually assaulted the women in the shower as he helped them wash, according to police reports.

One patient, a 49-year-old San Luis Obispo woman, says in the lawsuit filed against Carrillo, the hospital and its parent corporation that she was sexually assaulted in January 2011.

The alleged attack occurred while she was  recovering from a brain tumor that left her partially paralyzed. She alleges that when she reported it to hospital staff, they told her she was “delusional” and said that such an accusation could hurt an innocent man.

But she reported the attack to police in June 2012 and learned that the hospital had never informed authorities.

The lawsuit alleges that hospital officials knew Carrillo presented a danger because another woman had reported an assault in 2010.

The hospital is already being sued by that patient, who alleges she was repeatedly sexually assaulted by Carrillo as he helped her shower. She was recovering from the effects of a stroke at Cottage Rehabilitation Hospital between February and April 2010. That woman said she reported the attacks to hospital officials immediately.

“The two victims never knew each other. They were in the hospital at different times, several months apart," said attorney David Ring, who now represents both women, who only learned of each others' stories during the police investigation.

"Both victims identified the same nursing assistant as the perpetrator," Ring said. "Both victims were brutally sexually assaulted by this man. Both victims reported the incidents to administrators, doctors, and staff at Cottage hospital, and both were told that, because of their injuries, they were imagining it and were delusional from having a serious medical condition.”

Ring said “the hospital's conduct demonstrates that it cares more about its own reputation than about protecting its patients.”

Hospital spokeswoman Maria Zate released a statement Tuesday: "Cottage Rehabilitation Hospital and all of the Cottage hospitals hold the care and safety of every patient as our highest priority. Any allegation of patient abuse is taken extremely seriously, and we have rigorous procedures in place to thoroughly investigate in a timely manner."

Carrillo remains a licensed nursing assistant, according to state records. Zate said he was no longer an employee of the hospital.

The lawsuit filed Tuesday alleges that in the second woman's case, she was told the hospital had never received any complaint in the past about the male nursing assistant and that the hospital had informed the police of her accusations.

It seeks damages for sexual battery, infliction of emotional distress, fraud, abuse, negligence and premises liability.

The woman was released from the hospital in April 2011. In June 2012, she contacted police and discovered they had never heard of her sexual assault allegations.

During a subsequent police investigation, detectives discovered a second patient, a 57-year-old Santa Maria woman who was a patient from February to April 2010, said Santa Barbara Police Department spokesman Riley Harwood.

That information was found after police served a search warrant on the facility. Harwood said the second woman “articulated multiple incidents where she was assaulted by Carrillo.”

Carrillo was arrested last October on suspicion of penetration with a foreign object, oral copulation and sexual battery, Harwood said.

“We had probable cause for the arrest…but it was a difficult case given the victims’ circumstances,” Harwood said.

Santa Barbara County prosecutors declined to file charges, citing the victims' cognitive abilities at the time of the alleged incidents.

The first woman, identified as “Sara” by her attorneys, sued the hospital and Carrillo in February, seeking damages for multiple sexual assaults.

A stroke had left her paralyzed on the left side, and she had to learn to walk, talk and eat again, making her unable to fend off her attacker in 2010, she alleges in court records.

Carrillo and the hospital sought to dismiss the complaint, but a Santa Barbara County judge recently refused to do so, noting in her ruling that  the plaintiff claimed a nurse at the hospital “witnessed Carrillo engaging in inappropriate interactions with the plaintiff in the shower.”

Police said the second victim had begun to doubt herself until Santa Barbara police Det. Brian Larson contacted her to ask if she had been a patient at Cottage hospital in September.

In a police report, Larson noted that without prompting, she told the detective about her ordeal with the nursing assistant.

“I asked her if she recalled issues with a Cottage Rehab Hospital nurse," Larson said in the report. "She instantly knew what I was speaking about."

[Updated at 4:50 p.m. Sept. 24: A comment from the hospital and Carrillo's employment status were added to this post since it was originally published.]


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